The Washington Post

UMBC and its president, Freeman Hrabowski, profiled on ‘60 Minutes’

While the inside-the-Beltway crowd is chattering about the hard-hitting expose on Congressional insider trading that aired last night on “60 Minutes,” people out here in Maryland — particularly up north — are buzzing about a different segment. That is, the profile of University of Maryland Baltimore County President Freeman Hrabowski and the extraordinary college he has built focusing on science and math education.

The opening line of the piece: “We met a man with an unusual name you’ve probably never heard of, but his message about education and America’s future is something we thought you should know.”

Correspondent Byron Pitts then asked Hrabowski a question I was certainly wondering: How did a black man wind up with the name Hrabowski?

“My grandfather’s grandfather was the Polish slave master in rural Alabama,” Hrabowski said.


UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski (CBS News)

“I am the third, Freeman Hrabowski the third,” the good president said. “And my grandfather was the first one born a free man as opposed to having to be freed.”

His personal history only grows more remarkable from there. Some of it is ugly. As a child, he was spat upon — in the face — during the “Children’s March” at the height of the civil rights movement and then was locked in jail for five days.

He eventually focused his life on education, becoming president of UMBC in 1992. That’s where the “60 Minutes” piece really takes off, examining Hrabowski’s efforts to turn a school few people had heard of outside Maryland into a national leader in science and math.

Hrabowski even did the unthinkable around these parts: He said no to having a football team on campus.

“It seems like everything’s flipped,” a UMBC student told Pitts. “Where you might go to another university and the football team might be top dog, here it’s the chess team that’s top dog.”

You can watch the entire “60 Minutes” segment below. It’s well worth your time.

Michael Rosenwald is a reporter on the Post's local enterprise team. He writes about the intersection of technology, business and culture.

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